Well, it took longer than I expected — or hoped — but I have finally finished the initial linework for all 30 pages of The Crimebusters #120!
When I originally began the linework at the beginning of November, I hoped it would take me two months. My initial timeline had me finishing at the end of January.
Three things slowed me down. First, I took a 16 day vacation overseas, where no work was getting done. Secondly, I have had some health issues over the last month that have slowed me down. And third… well, this stuff just took longer than I expected!
I also added to pages in the middle of the process, going from 28 to 30, and those pages added more time because I had to do all the layouts as well.
Still, the linework is all done now. So what’s next?
Well, the next step of the process is adding all the dialogue. I’m going to go through the entire issue and add all the dialogue and caption boxes, and possibly some sound effects.
I may also add a few special effects — speed lines and such — because once this phase is done, I am going to print up a few ashcan copies to distribute to friends in the hopes of getting some feedback on art and dialogue changes that may be necessary during the editing process. I am particularly concerned with the storytelling — I want this to be a clear, clean, and easy read from start to finish, so making sure there’s nothing confusing in terms of panel layout, artwork, dialogue, or plot is paramount. I know my art has limitations, but telling the story clearly is more important to me than looking cool.
While my first readers are going over the issue, I will be taking a small break from the panel to panel artwork and change gears to do some other projects that need to be completed before the book goes to Kickstarter and gets published. Things like the Kickstarter promo image and the cover(s) for this first issue, as well as character bio artwork for this website need to be done. I’d also like to work on technical things for the website like the mailing list and the storefront, as well as write up bios for the rest of the characters.
Once I have gotten feedback, I will then proceed with rewriting the dialogue and, most time consumingly, finishing all the artwork with inking and special effects. I originally had planned on a month for inking and a month for preparing the Kickstarter campaign. I suspect the inking will take longer than a month, but I don’t know how long the Kickstarter campaign will take to set up, so for now I am tentatively still aiming for a May 1st live date for the Kickstarter, with the understanding it could be pushed later in the month, or even as late as June 1.
As always, I’ll be giving updates each step of the way, and I look forward to sharing more — and more complete! — art and pages as we get closer to finishing this first issue.
Next time around, I will dive into the thrilling world of fonts. But for now, here’s a look at the linework for Page 26:
This time around, I want to talk about inspiration and motivation. But before I get into that topic, time for my regular weekly progress update. I am currently working on the linework for Page 18 of 30, and expect to finish it later today. I expect Page 19 to be a fast one, so when the calendar turns to February, I will likely be working on Page 20. I originally hoped to be done with the linework for the whole issue at that point, but between my two week holiday and the decision to add 2 new pages to the story, things got a bit backlogged. Still, things are moving along, and I expect the linework to be completed some time in the week after Valentine’s day.
I’ve already talked some about the direct inspirations on this project, like Scooby Doo, the original Life with Archie, Archie’s Weird Mysteries, the Three Invesitgators and Trixie Belden, Lois Lane and Veronica Mars. But this time around I want to talk about inspiration in general — what I find inspiring, what recharges my creative juices, what excites me and makes me want to make comics.
Early on in the process of creating The Crimebusters #120, I attended MICE 2018 – the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo, which is filled with dozens of self-publishing comics creators. In a very real sense, indie comics are the lifeblood of the medium. Not only are self-published comics done for the love of the craft, but they also provide a fertile forum for new talents to develop their skills. Many comics professionals began in self publishing, where they often had far more creative freedom than is possible working for a big publisher on licensed properties.
Because of this, self-published comics have an incredible breadth and scope. Anything you can think of — anything they can think of — has a comics about it. And while the skill and talent levels vary wildly, that’s also part of the charm. There’s little artifice in indie comics. Nobody is phoning it in or faking it. You only self publish comics if you love comics, and love making comics, and that spirit I found tremendously inspiring. Opening a self published indie comic is a thrill, because you never know what you’re going to get, but it’s guaranteed to be someone’s dream come true.
I also recently had a chance to travel to Berlin, Germany, where I visited an amazing art collective called NeuroTitan. Part gallery, part art shop, and part interactive experience, NeuroTitan was like the ultimate embodiment of the artistic vibe we found throughout the city. Berlin is a place that seems to have really embraced street art, from the murals on the remaining sections of the Berlin Wall to the graffiti in the subway tunnels.
Nowhere was this more evident than at NeuroTitan. Located in a hidden courtyard, the entire approach to NeuroTitan is covered in intricate street art, with paintings, graffiti, and stickers covering every surface. Up a flight of stairs is the store itself, which is a collective of art prints, postcards, t-shirts and — of course! — self published comic books. And through the store is the gallery, where the artists in residence display their works in interesting exhibits that cover a range of social and political issues.
Leaving NeuroTitan we couldn’t help but be jazzed about making stuff, making art, and making comics in particular. It was an energizing experience.
Finally, earlier this month, I also attended the Boston science fiction convention Arisia. Dancing, gaming, and singing take place side by side with a fantastical art show, and a dealer room filled with novels, art prints, and strange creations. Plus thee were dozens of interesting panels touching on creativity in different ways, such as the panels on Writing for Comics and Writing with Tarot Cards.
But there are also hands on workshops. Want to learn how to make chainmail, or play the theramin? No problem! This year, the highlight for me in terms of workshops was the blockprinting workshop, where we learned how to carve stamps out of blocks of rubber and then hand-make prints.
And most of all, there’s the cosplay, and the community it creates. Seeing fans dressed up in elaborate costumes they built themselves simply out of love for the character is the perfect mix of creativity and geeked out fan joy, which is how I feel about comics when I love them most.
It’s inspiring to be around people who are passionate about things. Passionate about creating things, passionate about the creation of things, and passionate about the creative process.
Before I get to the second part of this exploration of the creative process behind the design of my co-lead character Trixie Trouble, just a quick progress update on The Crimebusters #120: As of today, I have completed the linework on page 13, and am starting in on page 14. There will be a slight delay, as I am taking the weekend off to attend the Arisia science fiction convention in Boston, but my hope is that by this time next week I will have completed page 15, which will put me at the halfway point now that the story is set to be 30 pages.
Okay, so back to Asking for Trouble! In the first installment, I looked at why I felt it was necessary to create a co-star to appear alongside Chuck Chandler. This time around, I’m going to look at the process of actually creating the character that became Trixie Trouble.
The first thing I had to do was look at the dramatic necessities of a co-star. With Chuck Chandler, I had a defined quantity. Chuck has certain character traits: he’s smart, honest, dedicated, loyal. He has a sense of humor in that he appreciates other people’s jokes, but he’s not a jokester himself — he’s serious, straight laced. He’s also very self-confident, a man of action: he’s not introspective, but has a very strong sense of wrong and right, and doesn’t question himself when it comes to what is just and unjust. Above all, his paramount principle is fairness.
In order to have dramatic tension between Chuck and his partner, the partner had to challenge Chuck. The partner had to be someone who wasn’t like Chuck — someone who would call him out on his shortcomings, and push him to think about things.
In other words, I felt Chuck needed a partner who he could argue with, rather than agree with all the time. At the same time, though, the new character had to be a true partner, rather than a sidekick. Watson challenges Holmes all the time, for instance, except Holmes is always right and Watson is always wrong, so they don’t have an equitable partnership. I wanted a true partner, which means someone who has a point of view which is different from Chuck’s, but equally correct. Both Chuck and the reader have to respect the partner, or else it doesn’t work.
I quickly identified some traits I wanted my character to have. The most important was a sense of fun and adventure, which brings with it a sense of humor. Chuck, bless him, is a great straight man, but he embarks on most of his investigations out of a sense of duty. I wanted someone who enjoys mysteries, who embraces the unknown, who gets excited about cases — someone whose enthusiasm will drag both Chuck and the reader along for the wild ride.
Since I had already decided I wanted to add some hint of the supernatural to my stories — ghosts, ghouls, creatures, and whatnot in the best Scooby Doo tradition — the idea of a Mulder and Scully type relationship quickly presented itself to me. Chuck isn’t the type to believe in any of this nonsense, but more important than being a skeptic is the fact that his curiosity is limited by his need to take action. What I mean is, if an alien kidnaps a cub scout, Chuck’s priority is going to be rescuing the kid; the fact that it’s an alien isn’t important.
I wanted someone who could act as the eyes and voice of the reader and express a sense of wonder and excitement at the weird cases they encounter — someone who would be amazed and thrilled to see an alien. Heck, she would much rather it be an alien than not. Just as Chuck is less of a skeptic and more of a pragmatist — if it’s not germane to the case, it’s irrelevant — the partner would be less of a believer and more someone who wants to believe.
As I mentioned before, I also pretty quickly decided that the series needed a strong female voice, something that Chuck’s previous adventures in Boy Comics were sorely lacking.
That gave me this list of traits for Chuck’s new partner:
adventurous – brave
sense of humor
excited by mystery – curious
delighted by the unknown
These all felt reminiscent of the classic girl detectives like Trixie Belden, especially the idea of a character who loves mysteries so much she just wants to believe everything is a mystery — to the point of it routinely causing trouble for her and everyone around her.
But these traits also seemed to me to have a lot of overlap with another classic literary trope from the same 1930’s-1950’s time period: the girl reporter. Lois Lane is the perfect example of a character who has all of these traits — rushing headlong into danger because she needs to solve the mystery is pretty much her entire schtick.
With that in mind, I started to craft an identity for my character. As an homage to classic teen detectives from the same time period that Chuck Chandler originated from, I decided to give her the first name Trixie. But I also wanted her to be a reporter. Starting from there, I worked out a backstory: as a youth, my Trixie was a rambunctious tomboy, athletic and adventurous. But two big events as teen had a big impact on her: her parents divorced, and then she was stricken with a serious illness that left her bedridden for a year.
Confined to bed, she had to turn to reading so she could experience adventures vicariously. She voraciously read detective magazines and crime novels, as well as newspapers. By the time she fully recovered, she had gained an encyclopedic knowledge of detectives both real and fictional, as well as a love for the written word. She decided to attend college to study journalism, with the aim of becoming either a private detective or the next best thing — a journalist.
Along the way, she couldn’t help but insert herself into all sorts of situations where she didn’t belong, solving crimes and getting herself and her friends into massive amounts of trouble.
Which is where the name came from, of course. I wanted a name that had the classic comic book alliteration of a Chuck Chandler or Peter Parker. So I began a list of words and names that began with TR to go with Trixie. I soon narrowed it down to two: Trueheart, and Trouble. Trueheart sounded more like a person’s actual name, and was nicely evocative of her spirit, but I liked Trouble as well, so I decided to just give her both: real name Trixie Trueheart, but her nickname is Trixie Trouble, because wherever she goes, trouble surely follows.
And this brought me back around to the idea of someone who could challenge Chuck. One thing that struck me reading through Chuck’s adventures is that, unlike most superheroes, Chuck was never really a vigilante. Very early on he became a protege of Loover, first when Loover was at the FBI, and then when Loover was the New York City District Attorney. So Chuck has always had the benefit of working with the authorities, meaning he’s never really had to think about or question his belief system. But what would he do if he had to work outside the system — like Trixie? Would the ultimate boy scout actually choose to break the law in order to serve a greater good? What’s ultimately more important, order, or justice? The ends, or the means?
Chuck has never had to think about that sort of thing. He’s someone who has always seemed to think there’s simply a right way and a wrong way to do things. But with Trixie on board, she’s about to bring him somewhere he’s never been: the moral grey area. And I can’t wait.
Thanks for reading! Next time I will discuss some of my inspirations, both for this issue and series, and just in general as a creator. And then the following week, I will conclude the Asking for Trouble series with a look at how I designed Trixie look! See you then!
Next time I will return to my extended look at character design and how I came to create our leading lady, Trixie Trouble.
For now, though, I wanted to give a short progress update, and explore one of the pages in progress.
After taking two weeks off for a trip abroad, I’m back at work on the line art for The Crimebusters #120. It’s taken me a couple of days to get back in the swing of things, but I just completed page 10 or 30, meaning I’m officially one third of the way through the line art.
You may note that I said 30 pages, as opposed to the 28 pages I referenced in previous posts. One thing that has slowed me down a little bit is the decision to add two pages to the story.
These pages were actually part of my original plot, but I later cut them because I felt they weren’t strictly necessary to advance the plot and I wanted to streamline the narrative as much as possible. However, upon reflection, I decided the pages were necessary for character reasons. Stories, after all, aren’t just about plot, they are about people, and these two pages I think will provide valuable character moments that will strengthen the story overall and make it a better read. Sometimes slowing down is better than speeding up.
This has meant a slow down in my process as well, though, as these pages, unlike the other 28, hadn’t been thumbnailed and laid out already. Still, that process has now been complete, and the linework for the first of the two new pages is done, so by the end of this week I think I will be back to the spot in the story I was at previously — only it will be page 12 now, instead of page 10.
For today’s preview, though, I wanted to backtrack a bit and give you a look at page 4 in progress. This is a page that I think will look significantly different once I get to the inking stage, as it takes place primarily at night and in the dark. So the blacks and shadings will add a lot of texture, as will sound effects. But here’s what it looks like at the moment:
The middle of the page, where Chuck sneaks out of his dorm room to investigate the crime scene, was a sequence I particularly enjoyed working on. This sequence is going to be wordless, though it will have some sound effects.
This sequence is heavily influenced by the work of the legendary Jim Steranko, who often used these sort of quick, small panels to create a narrative — or just set a scene — letting the art guide our mind into putting 2 and 2 together to get 4.
Originally, I planned a typical panel sequence here, but felt constrained, as in order to fit this much plot into such a small space felt like it would require a lot of exposition. Though original Crimebuster writer Charles Biro was far from shy about using dialogue data dumps, I wanted to avoid this when possible in favor of something more visual and dramatic — which is what Steranko is all about.
Here’s a look at his famous wordless love scene from Strange Tales:
Throughout The Crimebusters #120, I tried to utilize various storytelling techniques from masters like Steranko, both to keep the book fresh as well as to see which techniques work for me, and which don’t. This sort of wordless montage, which artists like Steranko borrowed from the film work of greats like Eisenstein, is something that I think is absolutely great in specific, small, and restrained uses. You can’t just do this for any sequence, but when you use it for the right sequence, it just all clicks. I will definitely be keeping this in my arsenal going forward!
Thanks for reading! Next time, I will be back for part 2 of my exploration of the character design process for Trixie Trouble.
The original impetus behind this project was my love of the Golden Age, public domain character Crimebuster, and a desire to continue his comic book adventures. It wasn’t far into the development process, though, that I realized I need to create a new partner for Chuck to work with, which is how I ended up creating the all-new character Trixie Trouble.
I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the character creation and development process from start to finish, so in this first installment, I’ll look at the reasons behind the creation of Trixie Trouble and how I slowly drilled down to the character I have now, and who will be making her debut in The Crimebusters #120.
Though it ran for 117 issues over 14 years, there were surprisingly few recurring characters in the pages of Crimebusters series in Boy Comics. There was Crimebuster himself, and his sidekick Squeeks the monkey. There was also the district attorney Loover, Chuck’s mentor, and the villain Iron Jaw, Chuck’s arch enemy.
And… that’s it, until Chuck went off to school in #107. At that point, writer Charles Biro introduced a whole new group of supporting characters in the form of other students at Curtiss Tech. Stu was Chuck’s new best friend and roommate, Jabbo was the new archenemy, an Iron Jaw toned down for the college set. And there was also a sporadic love interest name Annie, who appeared in a whopping three issues. That, however, also made her the only recurring female character in the entire series history.
When I began developing the story that would eventually, after years of work, morph into The Crimebusters #120, I felt the biggest problem was actually Squeeks. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Squeeks. But there were three big issues with Squeeks:
1. First and most obviously, Squeeks is a monkey, which means he doesn’t talk. This means when Chuck is working out cases, he can monologue at Squeeks, but he can’t have a conversation, which severely limits the writing options. I felt Chuck needed someone not just to talk to, but someone who would be able to challenge him (more on this in the next installment), and that’s not Squeeks.
2. Secondly, as a monkey, and Chuck’s pet, Squeeks is inherently subordinate to Crimebuster. I felt that what Chuck needed, though, was a true equal and partner rather than a sidekick. Squeeks is always going to be a sidekick — a great one, but a sidekick nonetheless.
3. Finally, my choice to pick up the original continuity presented a problem, because Squeeks was essentially written out of the series when Chuck went to Curtiss Tech. He does appear in a couple Curtiss Tech stories, but for the most part, he’s absent, which makes sense: the school isn’t likely to let a student keep a pet monkey in the dorm. If I wanted to use Squeeks, I’d have to really come up with a weird rationale to have him around.
Once I ruled out Squeeks, it was also pretty easy to rule out Stu. Stu doesn’t have the same problems as Squeeks; Stu is an equal to Chuck, he can talk, and he’s at Curtiss Tech. But he has a different problem Squeeks does not have: Stu is boring as hell. I do have plans for Stu that I think will prove interesting, but he just didn’t fit.
With all those factors in mind, I settled on the idea of creating a female counterpart to Chuck. I felt this worked thematically very well. By the end of his series, Chuck was firmly operating in the classic teen detective genre, and that is filled with great female characters like Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Veronica Mars, and many more. It also filled a major gap in the storytelling. Annie, god bless her, was about as nondescript as possible in her handful of appearances. Boy Comics, after all, was aimed at boys, and didn’t really consider girls much.
That doesn’t appeal to me, though. I wanted a strong female character, a detective who could match Chuck as an equal partner. Someone who could stand on equal footing as a main character in her own right. My story, I realized, would need to be as much about her as about Chuck.
And once I realized this, the parameters for actually creating Trixie became clearer. With Chuck, after all, I had a known quantity. After reading 117 issues worth of Crimebuster stories, I had a good idea of his personality, strengths, and weakness. For narrative and dramatic reasons, I needed to create a character who offered something different — who had different strengths, different weaknesses, different quirks. Someone who could challenge Chuck, and vice versa.
But she couldn’t just exist as a compliment or foil to Chuck — she had to be interesting enough in her own right to pique curiosity, command attention and carry the narrative. She had to feel like she had her own 14-year backstory of adventures and experiences.
In classic comic book terms, this had to feel like Power Man and Iron Fist teaming up for the fist time: two leading characters who just happen to work even better together.
The process of designing that personality, and the process of designing Trixie’s look, are things I will explore in the next installment.